Spending policy, budget, governance: What SPJ’s board did

Updated at 6:30 p.m. May 1 with information about candidates

The biggest item on the SPJ national board agenda when it met in Indianapolis on April 22 and 23 was whether and how to overhaul the society’s structure of governance.

That topic has been studied for several months and will go before delegates for one or more votes at the national convention in Anaheim in September.

For background information from the Indianapolis board meetings (SPJ and SDX), go to a page at SPJ.org with board agendas and materials. Below are highlights, with notations to corresponding pages in the board packet.

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April 22 SPJ board meeting:

• Budget: The board unanimously approved a $1.25 million budget for fiscal year 2018. Executive Director Joe Skeel said it’s more conservative than usual. Revenue in a few key areas is down, such as advertising and contest entries (p. 24). SPJ has been losing members, but a new recruitment and retention plan has Skeel optimistic that we can regain some lost ground. Staffing at SPJ HQ will decrease as duties are reorganized (p. 25). An investment in improving SPJ’s computer system is a priority.

• New chapter: A campus chapter was unanimously approved for Austin Peay State University in Tennessee.

• Conflicts of interest: The board unanimously agreed to strengthen part of its conflict of interest policy (p. 39). Old passage: “After disclosure, I understand that I may participate in discussion to respond to questions, but then shall leave the meeting before the final discussion and vote and shall not vote on the question.” New passage: “It is my responsibility to state my connection and potential conflict on any topic as it comes up during a discussion. After disclosure, I will remove myself from the discussion and leave the meeting, unless I am called on to answer questions. I will not vote on the topic.” This was sparked by an executive session discussion in which someone with a connection to both SPJ and an outside organization participated in a discussion about the other organization. I thought this was an insufficient separation and proposed a stronger one.

• Credit cards: At Skeel’s recommendation, the board unanimously approved a policy for SPJ employees using SPJ credit cards (p. 40). It clarifies the proper use of credit cards and the ramifications of improper use.

• Spending policy: The board discussed a possible policy on SPJ spending, as recommended by Region 11 Director Matt Hall: “The Executive Committee shall approve any expenditure over $5,000 that is not authorized in the annual budget.” This was largely a response to a decision by SPJ President Lynn Walsh, in consultation with SPJ’s staff, to spend $5,000 on an Ethics Week project that included hiring a consultant. Walsh said the proposal came up quickly and needed quick action. SPJ has no policy on the president getting approval for spending. But some board members expressed concern, especially when SPJ hires consultants, and thought this was a matter for board approval, like the last two times SPJ hired a consultant. The board talked about how much authority a president should have without needing to consult with the board. The proposal was sent back to SPJ’s Finance Committee to work on the wording.

• Candidates: The board heard from Immediate Past President Paul Fletcher, the nominations committee chairman, about candidates running in the next election.

Update: Today, Fletcher sent me a full list of the candidates so far. He shared them at the meeting, but I didn’t catch all of the names then.

Alex Tarquinio is running for president-elect. Patti Gallagher Newberry and Daniel Axelrod are competing for secretary-treasurer.

Five people were running for one at-large director seat, but one dropped out. The remaining four are: Alex Veeneman, Elle Toussi, Randy Bateman and Melissa Allison. Current at-large director Bill McCloskey is not running again.

Candidates for two campus representative seats are Rahim Chagani and Keem Muhammad (who is on the board now).

The only other contested race so far is for Region 10 director between Ethan Chung, who holds the position now, and Don Meyers, a former regional director.

Incumbent Sue Kopen Katcef is running again for vice president for campus chapter affairs. I am running again for Region 2 director. Region 3 director Michael Koretzky and Region 11 director Matt Hall are running for another term.

There are no candidates so far for one campus adviser at large seat (now held by Rebecca Tallent) and for directors in Region 6 (currently Joe Radske) and Region 12 (currently Amanda Womac).

• Membership: Associate Executive Director Tara Puckey has been overseeing a package of initiatives to boost SPJ’s membership (p. 44). They include “kudos boxes,” better invoices, working with non-journalism groups and much more. Take a look.

• Communications: SPJ also is working on a communications plan. It starts on p. 51.

T-shirts: SPJ is going to have terrific First Amendment T-shirts. More details to come.

• Executive session: In executive session, the board agreed on choices for SPJ Fellows and talked about a staffing analysis that Skeel prepared.

• Governance: After returning to open session, the board had a lengthy discussion and debate about a proposal to restructure its system of governance (p. 57). A task force has proposed cutting the board from 23 to 9 members (three officers, four at large, two appointed). A nominations committee would do “vetting.” One sticking point: What does vetting mean? A slate of endorsed candidates? Qualified? Is it better to steer voters toward “preferred/qualified” candidates or to not try to influence by applying a label? Regional directors would become “regional coordinators” and would no longer be on the board. Addendum C (p. 71) shows the phase-in timetable and process. Also take a look at feedback by the Bylaws Committee (p. 72).

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April 23 SPJ board meeting:

• Governance: The board continued the discussion on the governance restructuring proposal, focusing on a few key sticking points. A majority of the board opposed including term limits for members of the new board. With that change, the board approved the task force’s new governance proposal, sending it to this year’s convention delegates for vote(s) in September. The only board member to vote no was at-large director Rachel Wedding McClelland. The board also decided against the task force’s proposal to cut stipends for the regional directors/coordinators. (I was in favor of cutting the stipend, but it was not put out for a formal vote.)

• Diversity: The board and SPJ spent several minutes talking about questions raised in the SPJ Diversity Committee’s midyear report (p. 82). The committee expressed frustration that its ideas for changing the Dori Maynard Diversity Fellowship were not carried out. Keem Muhammad, a student member of the SPJ national board, said the fellowship is wasted if SPJ does not attempt to create longer-lasting connections with fellows. SDX Foundation President Robert Leger replied that some fellows have gone on to leadership positions. He said he disagreed with the Diversity Committee’s request that females be considered minorities for the purpose of the fellowship, which would change what the program is.

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